Conflict about money is a very common problem in couples - research from the 2014 APA Stress Survey shows that over a third of couples admit that money is a major source of conflict in their relationship, and more recent Australian data indicate it's one of the biggest sources of conflict for almost 60% of couples. This has become more challenging in the recent financial environment where interest rates and cost of living have become higher, and money has become tighter for many families.
While it might seem that the conflict is often about money, its usually not about money.
Let me explain. Money has a deeper meaning than its dollar value - it represents different things to different people - security, freedom, luxury, necessity, a chance to fulfil your dreams. Money also brings out power and control issues, and hidden expectations.
So, it's about what money means to each person in the relationship, and it's those differences which are at the heart of your money disagreements.
But how do you find what money means to your partner? First, it's important to note that if money is a trigger conversation for conflict, it is important to have that conversation when you are both calm.
1. Calm should prevail for you both to hear each other
One of you is a spender the other is a saver, and you have just splurged on a luxury item. Your partner resents your spending, criticises you, both of your feelings are hurt, and an argument ensues.
If you are getting flooded with emotion and have a head full of steam, the conversation is heading down an unconstructive track, and you are better off parking it for a later time (e.g., 30 minutes later) when you are both again calm. (Tip: If you have a smartwatch you can tell you are 'flooded' if you notice your heart rate is over a 100 beats per minute).
2. Uncover the deeper meaning
This one is a good idea for a date night. You can both take turns asking each other some questions to understand money's deeper meaning for each of you. Remain open-minded and non-judgmental - just listen to your partner's answers without criticism or trying to persuade them (that your way of looking at it is the right way). Remember, money is a symbol and tool. Here are a few sample questions to help you get curious about your partner's perspective.
- What did your parents teach you about money? What do you agree or disagree with in terms of what you've learned from your family values around money?
- What is your best or happiest money memory? What is your most painful money memory? (tell the story to your partner)
- How has your life experiences shaped and influenced your attitude towards wealth, responsibility or worry about financial security?
- What are your financial goals?
- What are your fears about money?
- What are your dreams about money?
- What does having 'enough' money mean to your personally and why?
You might also uncover some connections between your own 'money scripts' - that which we've learned from our family experiences around money, and how that plays out in your current thinking about money. It is important to validate your partner when you learn about how their past money experiences have shaped them.
3. You are a team
With better understanding about what money means to each of you, you can work better as a team in addressing your financial responsibilities. Consider what being a team means and how you split tasks. A good option is to share roles and both discuss household finances together on a regular basis - for example, once a month. Decide together what your financial goals are. You might want to review for the next quarter what your savings goals are, and if there are any major or minor purchases coming up that you need to put money aside for. By having a regular conversation together, you are both informed and more likely to have a positive outcome. If you don't see eye-to-eye on a particular topic, see where you can compromise. Or let it sit for few days and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Scott Pape's in his book 'The Barefoot Investor' has some great tips for having date nights centred around money conversations.
4. Seeking professional help
If you keep having the same money arguments over and over again, and are not making any headway (or in fact you are starting to resent each other more and more), it might be time to seek professional help:
A couples counsellor can help you shift money conflict to a more constructive conversation. Email me to set up an appointment.
If you are looking to get advice on debt, there are
- financial counsellors who can assist, or call the National Debt Hotline: 1800 007 007
Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.